As much as I like to think I'm still a little kid at heart, I must admit I don't typically watch kids' TV shows (that is, of course, unless it's the old school Bugs Bunny episodes - then I'm all in).
That being said, the last time I watched an episode of any Degrassi series was in the late '80s. So, when I heard that The N was putting on a panel for teens in which the casts of Degrassi: The Next Generation and the new Broadway show Spring Awakening were getting together to discuss teen issues, I really wanted to attend. I've been hearing about Spring Awakening a lot lately, I've always been a fan of outlets that help teens get through those really hard years, and seeing the new Degrassi cast would definitely be interesting compared to my old Degrassi days.
So, off I went to Spring Awakening and Degrassi: A Live Verbal Mashup. Other than the fact that it made me feel so far removed from teen issues (probably a good thing), I have to admit that I was impressed. It was great to see that such a popular teen TV show really hits home with teens and is brave enough to discuss issues like abortion, sexual orientation, rape, and alcohol and drug use, to name a few.
As Adamo Ruggiero, who plays Marco Del Rossi on Degrassi said during the panel, the show doesn't sugar coat teen issues, and at the same time, it doesn't preach either. More so, Degrassi: The Next Generation doesn't portray teen issues in their Hollywood version, but when teens watch it, they can actually think that it's their lives they're showing on TV. It's the real thing.
To backtrack a bit, Zach Braff, star of Scrubs introduced the two casts at the event, and did a great job. He had the entire audience laughing as he made some rather crass jokes, but hey, that's what teens like, isn't it? What was even funnier was the banter between Braff and Rosie O'Donnell, who hosted the panel discussion. Rosie had to redo her entrance numerous times due to things like microphone difficulties. During one of her first entrances, O'Donnell and Braff engaged in conversation regarding the first Broadway show Braff had seen. Braff responded that it was Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. When the audience full of teens erupted in applause, Braff said that he was referring to the original cast, not the Donny Osmond version they all knew.
On O'Donnell's final attempt to enter the stage, Braff joked, "It's good to see you! It's been so long!" Then Braff said again that the first show he saw was Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, to which O'Donnell replied, "You mean with Donny Osmond?"
All jokes aside, O'Donnell was a good host. I spent a lot of time trying to think of another celebrity who could have taken her place, and I came up blank. She had the right mix of humor, sensibility and understanding that was necessary for the role. I say that because it's not an easy place to be in - to be able to talk to teens, relate to them, and make them feel comfortable enough to want to share their feelings.
But that seems to be what The N, as a network, does. As I said earlier, I don't watch kids' shows that often. So, I employed the help of a fabulous fifteen year old, Katie Sousa, who, although she doesn't have The N at home, told me she loves going to her friends' houses to watch it. Sousa told me, "I think The N's shows you can relate to better than some of the other shows on TV because they deal with real problems that teens deal with like relationships or partying."
"I think that when Liberty got pregnant and had her baby, that was really relatable. I know there are a lot of teens getting pregnant and dealing with having a baby. Also, when Marco came out as being gay, I think that's another thing that teens can relate to," Sousa explained.
Of course, Degrassi can't be perfect, as Sousa said, "The one thing that I thought was a little out there was the episode of Degrassi when JT got stabbed at a party. I don't think that things like that happen a lot." Yet, she added, "In all, it's pretty realistic."
And Degrassi: The Next Generation isn't the only one of The N's shows that teens can relate to. According to Sousa, Beyond the Break, South of Nowhere, and Instant Star are just as truthful and relevant.
It's almost monumental that a network can have such significant programming directed at teens that is not only entertaining, but helpful in their every day lives. As one teenager in the audience of the event pointed out, in the world we live in where most young celebrities are in rehab or shaving their heads, the cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation actually provides positive role models for kids today. Now that deserves a standing ovation.
Spring Awakening and Degrassi: A Live Verbal Mashup will air on AOL in mid-May.
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